The general election season officially kicked off last week as delegates gathered in Denver for the Democratic National Convention - and Google and YouTube were there to enable and promote the use of the Internet to bring voters and candidates closer than ever before. People across the U.S. were able to keep up with the latest convention news and action using YouTube, Picasa and Election News - centralized and featured on our Conventions site.

On the ground, delegates and attendees got a taste of Google at our Google Retreat in the Big Tent, where they could drink refreshing smoothies, enjoy free massages and sample our newest election products, including the 2008 U.S. Elections site, the Google Maps Election Gallery and Power Readers in Politics.

Many of our Democratic guests took the time to post video nominations of Senator Barack Obama at YouTube booths in the Google Retreat and inside the Pepsi Center. Our goal was to allow those in attendance to express their enthusiasm for the Party on video - and allow voters at home a more robust and diverse view of the proceedings in Denver than ever before. We collected over 500 such videos from delegates on hand. In addition, party and political leaders – among them Governor Mark Warner, Senator Harry Reid, Governor Bill Richardson, Governor Brian Schweitzer, Mayor Gavin Newsom, and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin – and celebrities like John Legend, Charles Barkley, and Louis Gossett Jr. took the opportunity to speak directly to the YouTube community and/or to talk about why they are nominating Obama (as did Congressman Dennis Kucinich, pictured here). Their videos, and a whole lot more, including Senator Obama's acceptance speech, are available on our 2008 Conventions YouTube channel.

Along the 16th Street Mall, visitors stepped into our Google Maps voting booths to find how to register and where to cast their ballots with our US Voter Info Guide.

Our CEO, Eric Schmidt, participated in a townhall discussion moderated by Rachel Maddow on technology's role in modern politics, from the Macaca incident to the next administration.

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We even showcased Google Maps on a Jumbotron before Barack Obama's stadium speech in an effort to illustrate Americans' top concerns for 2008; Google App Engine helped us host the mashup and manage thousands of incoming text messages. See the live map on the DNC website.

And to celebrate the closing night of the convention, we partnered with Vanity Fair to throw a party for press, celebrities, political leaders and executives in attendance. Our guests challenged each other to tennis matches in the "hallway of Wiis" and performed their favorite hits in the Rock Band room.

This week we're in St. Paul for the Republican National Convention, which of course has taken a muted tone in the face of Hurricane Gustav. Thankfully, so far the damage has been less than predicted and the convention proceedings may be able to resume. In the meantime, delegates are using YouTube to upload messages of support via video, Google Earth to track Gustav's progress, and Google Maps to display evacuation sites and hurricane forecasts. And this week we're excited to be able to stream the convention live each night on Google News, thanks to Ustream, the official streaming provider of the RNC. When we're not showing live coverage, we'll have highlights from the previous day's activities.

Live Streaming by Ustream

Update: Added reference to Google App Engine mashups.

Posted by Rick Klau, Brittany Bohnet, and Steve Grove, Google Elections Team